I just learned that there is a facsimile edition (or perhaps replica is a better designation) of P.Bodmer VIII, part of a famous (and somewhat mysterious) codex containing the texts of 1-2 Peter, among other things. The facsimile is crafted by a Spanish company, and it comes in a nice wooden case along with an introductory booklet containing a "Traducción y Transcripción" (translation and transcription). According to the website at the link above, it sells for a steep €806 ($1,113). The images look nice. Does anyone know anything about this facsimile? I would love to know what the quality is like and if the material is papyrus. For $1,113, it better look just like the original! This is a great way for libraries or departments to facilitate learning of ancient Greek manuscripts.
The web is blowing up with articles and blog posts on the topic of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (GJW), discussions prompted by the recent publication of the latest issue of the Harvard Theological Review, which features the official publication of and scientific reports on the GJW. I have known about this papyrus for a long time and have repeatedly been asked to respond to claims being made in the media but I have refrained, until now. Today, I wish to address the provocative GJW but I shall avoid making claims about its authenticity or inauthenticity. Rather, I wish to address the scholarly enterprise around this piece in the hopes that it will create a momentary space for disciplinary self-reflection. Toward that end, I shall speak to two things: 1) historiography and 2) Western intellectualism and power differentials.
The famous French scholar Michel de Certeau contended that the past becomes comprehensible to us only through the historian’s discourse of “facts.” The sine qua non of making history is, according to de Certeau, “an endless labor of differentiation” between a former period and the present. That is, meaning is formed through the process of negotiating the past and present. Such differentiation, according to de Certeau, takes place “along the margins which join a society with its past and with the very act of separating itself from that past” (The Writing of History, 37). It is only when accounts of the past and their interpretation in the present meet that something new is created. It is a “back and forth” between two poles of the “real.” The goal of historiography for de Certeau is the relocation of the past (preserved) into the conceptual (and narrative) framework of present discourse that unfolds or resuscitates the lost through labors of differentiation.
This idea of the past rupturing into the present is nothing new of course; it is largely a critique of positivist history so dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries. But what interests me is the way in which narratives of or about the past shape our own identities. In other words, there is a social role of narratives concerning the past. Frank Ankersmit questions why it is that “our relationship to the past has become ‘privatized’ in the sense that it primarily is an attribute of the individual historian and no longer of a collective disciplinary historical subject” (Historical Representation, 153). We are now more than ever invested in retrieving the past because it is tied—whether consciously or unconsciously—to our search for personal identity. This is what Pierre Nora means by “modern memory” when he writes: “Modern memory, is, above all, archival. Fear of a rapid and final disappearance combines with anxiety about the meaning of the present and uncertainty about the future to give even the most humble testimony, the most modest vestige, the potential dignity of the memorable” (“Between Memory and History,” 13).
All of this has much relevance for the appraisal of cultural artifacts such as the GJW, and particularly those cultural artifacts which impinge on one’s religious identity. In the case of the GJW, the question about whether or not Jesus was married cannot simply be reduced to a concern about history; it is a religious question disguised as a historical one. So why is the question of Jesus’ marriage important anyway? Because it seeks to anchor one’s beliefs in a material reality. This is how history is often used. But it’s also not just about Jesus or religion in general. Even those scholars who admit that the GJW says nothing about the historical Jesus are participating in a discourse that is going nowhere. But why is it that scholars are so concerned about whether this text was written in the 2nd century, the 8th, or the 21st? Why have we privileged this text over against all the other texts on papyrus that get identified on a daily basis?
That brings me to my second point. Western intellectualism has often been described in terms of hegemonic discourse that privileges knowledge produced by the intellectual elite over against the kinds of knowledge produced outside of the academy. Feminist and post-colonial scholars have done a lot to advance this idea, and I believe it is very relevant to the current discussion. I hasten to agree with Hector Avalos, when he says:
"Relevant knowledge must be grounded in an awareness of how knowledge is used to create class distinctions and power differentials. Biblical scholars, for example, are almost solely devoted to maintaining the cultural significance of the Bible not because any knowledge it provides is relevant to our world but because of the self-serving drive to protect the power position of the biblical studies profession" (The End of Biblical Studies, 23).
It is time we stop and reflect on the extent to which the discussions about the GJW are a product of Western political, economic, and social interests (on this point, see Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak?). Why has a first-rate academic journal devoted almost an entire issue to a piece of papyrus whose authenticity is questionable? Why are scholars so vehement about answering the question of its authenticity? Why are certain scholars given space to voice their view while others are silenced? What are the motives behind those producing blog posts and articles concerning this cultural artifact? Why did Harvard University create a website specifically for the GJW? Why was a historical documentary on the GJW produced so soon after its discovery (and before its publication!)?
I am currently editing, among other things, an unpublished Coptic papyrus fragment right now housed in an Ivy League institution that contains an unknown text that mentions Jesus, his cross, disciples, and cites a New Testament verse. Should the history channel run a documentary on this? Should Harvard Theological Review--or some other journal, for that matter—devote nearly a entire issue to this papyrus fragment? Should my institution create a website for it? We as historians should think long and hard about the production and dissemination of knowledge and the potential effects it might have on society as a whole. Is what we are doing relevant and meaningful for society and human progress? Are we encouraging and promoting intellectual hegemony through our own discourses about history (in this case, the GJW)?
It is also extremely interesting to me that the GJW has been submitted for such drawn-out testing, which is unprecedented. Yet no one expects these procedures for any other ancient document. It has always been the practice of papyrologists (those who study ancient texts and writing materials) to make judgments based on observation, but when it comes to highly religious texts (e.g., Gospel of Judas), we must test them “scientifically.” As one of my colleagues so astutely averred recently, “it also raises questions about our own scientific expertise: we’re not able, any more, apparently, to decide if those things are genuine, with our own Wissenschaft: we have to call on the ‘real’ scientists” (personal correspondence).
The terms “forgery” and “fake” are also worth reflecting on in light of the discussion. Why are some (most?) scholars inclined to discount an object’s significance simply because it might be a forgery or fake? It is because we privilege what is historically “real” and “pure” and disregard those things which do not fit the bill. But modern forgeries are also very significant because they reflect our own, present historical imaginations and representations, even if the goal of the forger is to deceive. If we think of it in this sense, almost every early Christian text (including the New Testament) is a forgery, insofar as these authors sought to legitimatize their theological claims by contextualizing them within a historical framework that is often highly imaginative. So why are ancient historical imaginations privileged over modern ones? Because we are most interested in the foreign realities and minds of the past. This is a clear case of academic “othering” and intellectual elitism.
In closing, I would simply like to suggest that we as historians stop over-privileging historical artifacts like the GJW. The question about the papyrus’ authenticity is less important, in my opinion, than the agendas and socio-political realities that drive the question itself. We want firm answers about the GJW, but we will not get the “facts” we want unless a living forger comes forward or the dead author (ancient or modern) comes back to life to tell the complete story. This is precisely how the writing of all history works and we should respect the “fragile and necessary boundary between a past object and a current praxis” (de Certeau, The Writing of History, 37). Let us move on as historians to other historical ideas, topics and artifacts instead of continuing to find ways to make the debate around the GJW more and more relevant.
Harvard has created a new website devoted to the Gospel of Jesus' Wife here, which, among other things, gives free access to Harvard Theological Review's latest issue, featuring articles concerning the papyrus from a list of reputable scholars. It seems that the papyrus has proved to be ancient and that there is more evidence suggesting that the text itself may also be ancient. I have remained very quiet about all of this until now but will respond shortly to the website and HTR journal articles once I have had time to read them all.
A couple years ago, I announced that the the Insitute of Classical Studies in London was preparing a new edition of E.G. Turner's classic Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (second edition, with Parsons). This week, I spoke with Richard Simpson, Director of Publications, and he informs me that a new edition of G. Cavallo and H. Maehler's Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period A.D. 300 – 800 (1987) is also in the works! These are two of the most important manuals on Greek palaeography to date and I am super excited to know that both are coming back in print. Simpson also informs me that there will be online editions of these volumes as well. If you were to buy them used from places such as Amazon, they will run you a couple hundred bucks or more. So, good news all around.
Yesterday, during my research on the McGill leaf from NT lectionary l 1663 (which I talked about previously), I came across l 192 and realized that these manuscripts are most probably written by the same scribe. There is the possibility that it is not the same scribe but that both manuscripts are products of the same scriptorium, but a close inspection of both manuscripts suggests that we are indeed dealing with the same scribe. This means that we need to return to the question of dating, since l 192 is dated to the 13th century and l 1663 to the 14th. My hunch is that both are to be dated to the late 12th/early 13th, since they are consonant with later hands in the codices vetusti category of minuscule manuscripts (i.e., mid-10th to mid-13th centuries).
I have put together some comparanda but please note that these were put together in haste: better comparisons certainly exist and the image quality of the samples is poor. The hands in both are fluid and the letter forms often change from one occurrence to the next. Please take a look yourself at complete images of l 192 here and an image of one leaf of l 1663 here. The pictures on the left are from l 1663 and those on the right are from l 192.
P.Oxy. 2 is a papyrus sheet (partial) that was folded in antiquity to create two codex leaves (i.e., a bifolium) on which the Gospel of Matthew was inscribed (complete high-res images: recto, verso). It is the the first papyrus in the Gregory-Aland system, designated "P1." Most of the first leaf is missing; the text of Matthew 1 is featured on the second leaf. The first, partial leaf is important, however, because it is a “flyleaf” or coversheet similar to what we find in other codices, such as BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3 (P4, Matthew). Surprisingly, most textual critics have ignored this flyleaf. Even Simon Gathercole in his 2012 article “The Earliest Title of Matthew’s Gospel” (published in Novum Testamentum) did not mention P.Oxy. 2 in his discussion of the flyleaf and title of Matthew’s Gospel in BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3/P4. It is also not found in INTF’s Virtual Manuscript Room’s transcriptions (http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/manuscript-workspace). Most people will have never heard of it. But this flyleaf appears to contain an unusual title(?) to Matthew’s Gospel:
Grenfell and Hunt, the editors of this papyrus, noticed that the text on the flyleaf was written in a different hand and suggested that the three lines “may have formed a title of some kind.” They provided the following transcription of the title:
Notice the extra material in the photo on the right (the title is on the back side). In any case, I suspect that the edge of the papyrus was damaged at some point resulting in the loss of the two letters εν at the end of line 1.
In 1971, José O’Callaghan proposed that these three lines are from Matthew 2:14: ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ [...]
Comfort and Barrett claimed that “it could be conjectured that it was not so much a title as it was a kind of subhead descriptor,” and proposed the following transcription:
We can only guess at what the papyrus read at this point, since we are working with only 8 letters. But I would like to offer another possibility (cf. 1:20):
ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ
Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου
“He was made flesh (=born)
by the Holy Spirit and
Mary, the Virgin”
Since the handwriting of the title (or “subhead descriptor”) of P.Oxy. 2 is likely later than that of the main text, which is dated to the 3rd century, we might say that the scribe or reader who inscribed the flyleaf was familiar with this creedal formula and decided to introduce his copy of Matthew in precisely this way. It also resonates with words and phrases we find in the opening chapter of Matthew ("born of the Holy Spirit," "his mother," "ἐγεννήθη"). That early Christians continued to recognize Mary as the one who gave birth to Jesus is evidenced in a variety of early Christian texts and artifacts. One example is the ΧΜΓ symbol, probably signifying Χ(ριστὸς ὁ ἐκ) Μ(αρίας) Γ(εννηθείς) ("Christ, the one born of Mary").
There are certainly other possibilities than what I have proposed (including trying to read παρθένος in the second line, among other things), but I think a highly reasonable conclusion is that the three lines probably communicated something about Jesus' being born by Mary.
BIG news, Mac users: as of this morning, Apple's word processor, Pages, improved their software and the sublinear dots for papyrological editing work flawlessly! They are positioned perfectly center underneath EVERY letter. I have been waiting on this for years. Microsoft Word still does not work in this regard. (Mellel also works, but I do not like Mellel for a variety of reasons.) Take a gander:
In the following screen flow video, I introduce a previously unpublished Greek fragment of John Chrysostom's Homily on Maccabees.
I have recently surveyed around one hundred different papyrological and text-critical studies to see how scholars spell the word used to signify a scribal marking “above the line.” This could refer to a variety of things, including a horizontal stroke placed over abbreviated words and numbers, expunging dots above a letter, a letter serving as a correction or addition above another one on the line, etc. There are two spellings of this commonly used word in the literature: 1) superlinear and 2) supralinear. In the sample of literature I scanned, both spellings occur almost equally. In many cases, the terms are used interchangeably within the same text. It seems to me that it is time we decide on one of the terms.
The prefixes super and supra are both derived from Latin roots meaning “above” and “over,” among other things, and the former is a far more common prefix in the English language (e.g., superstructure, superpower, supernatural, superabundant, etc.). “Superlinear” (and to a far less degree, “supralinear”) is a technical term that is commonly employed in mathematics and physics, and so I would suggest that papyrologists use the term “supralinear” in contradistinction to the former. Of course we all known what both of the terms mean in papyrological contexts, but I think we should aim at terminological uniformity in our grammars, textbooks, papyrological editions, and essays in order to avoid any possible confusion. It might be valuable to trace the origin and development of this term within the discipline and to provide a more precise analysis of the Latin prefixes super and supra vis-à-vis the meaning they are intended to convey. This is a provisional suggestion and I welcome your comments.
Just recently, I discovered a missing leaf from l1663—a Gospel lectionary codex housed in Chicago. This leaf, which is kept in the Rare Books and Special Collections of McGill University, has never been identified until now. There is an interesting question as to how it got separated from the larger codex in Chicago, but we know that there is at least one other separated folio in the private collection of E. Krentz. This particular item came into the McGill library during the 1930s, and many readers of this blog will be excited to know that it was purchased from Erik von Scherling. Thus, it is an item from von Scherling's private bulletin Rotulus, where it was no. 2035. There are many more (unpublished) precious gems from the McGill collection, some of which I am currently editing for publication. I am finishing up the edition of this codex leaf, but in the meantime I thought I would introduce it to the readers of this blog through a screen flow video. Enjoy!
UPDATE: The following image is a better example of the use of the suspended epsilon in both the new leaf and the Krentz leaf. Notice the near identical letter forms of the first three letters απε as well as the shape and placement of the breathing mark.